Monday, January 30, 2006

Birfcake? No, I'll Have Pizza!

Happy Birfcake to Michael---
Can't believe it, he's getting so old! He was asleep when I got home today, and almost refused to talk to Lauren when she called. Finally, when he was conscious, he made his dinner request known---PIZZA! "And not the kind I have to go out and get!" he barked. Which according to him means driving to Angelo's in Alhambra, no delivery. That tiny Italian restaurant makes quite a formidable pie, and driving home requires someone to ride shotgun, even for the medium. Anything larger and you can feed the whole block, no lie! Angelo's is the only reason to go out to buy a pizza. We usually end up making one at home. So while the dough is rising, this is a good opportunity to get today's post done with the formula for our homemade pizza. It is actually a lot easier than you would think, and you can make it simple with cheese, tomato, and herbs, or jazz it up with all your favorite toppings.
Happy Birfcake to you!

MICHAEL'S PIZZA - from an old family recipe
Dough -
1 pound unbleached all-purpose flour (approximately 3 to 4 cups, level measure)
2 tablespoons olive oil (plus extra for proofing bowl and baking the pizza)
2 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast, from Smart & Final
1/2 teaspoon pure honey
8 ounces lukewarm filtered water or tap water if you live outside So.Cal.
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Toppings -
8 ounces sliced provolone cheese
1 cup homemade or jar sauce like Francesco Rinaldi
8 ounces sliced pepperoni or salami
8 ounces freshly grated mozzarella cheese
4 ounces finely grated parmesean cheese
2 links hot Italian sausage, casing removed, crumbled (Claro's fresh sausage preferred)
additional toppings as desired, such as
fresh herbs, mushrooms, onions, peppers and more
cornmeal for dusting pizza pan

Place all dough ingredients into bowl of KA stand mixer with the hook attachment. Combine for about 2 to 3 minutes on lowest speed. Set timer for five minutes and turn mixer to speed number 2. Do not go above this speed or you risk burninating your mixer. Prepare a large stainless steel bowl with about three tablespoons of olive oil. After about five minutes of kneading, dough should look smooth and become wrapped around the dough hook. Remove dough, form into a smooth round shape and place into prepared bowl, turning once to coat. Cover bowl tightly with plastic wrap, cover with a towel, and set in a warm place to proof till double in size, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
When doubled, remove plastic and lightly press down on dough releasing some of the air. Place on a well-floured surface and roll out into rectangle for half sheet pan, or into round pizza pie pan shape. If you like thick crust, make one pizza. For thin crust, cut dough with a bench scraper or large spatula and make two. Sprinkle a bit of corn meal on bottom of pizza pan and place dough on pan, lightly pressing to fit. To add toppings, first lay slices of provolone on dough, this prevents a soggy bottom. Then spoon just enough sauce over surface, spreading with the back of the spoon. Add your toppings as desired, finishing with finely grated parmesean cheese. Drizzle additional olive oil on pizza and edges of crust. Place in a 450F degree oven for about 15 minutes. Check at 10 minutes and turn pan from back to front if needed to prevent uneven browning. Let cool slightly before cutting into slices. Tutti mangia!

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Best Birfcake Ever

What a wonderful birfcake yesterday! It started with an e-mail from 93Jack FM, though I don't recall giving birfcake info when I signed up for contests. Mea culpa. Michael graciously offered to clean the kitchen and drive me to school. No Metro bus ride of terror, YAY! My classmates sang HB to me, and although I declined the offer of a 7-11 doughnut, they gave me a huge red delicious apple instead. I passed the exam and taught the class while Chef Gio observed me. He said I did VERY well, and that dude is a tough as nails critic, you always know where you stand with him. I saw some former colleagues, Arturo, who just finished a three month chef apprenticeship in Spain, and Ruthie, who is working in Beverly Hills, both had appts. with Chef. They have incredible stories about their experiences. Arturo told us about sleeping on a bunk bed in the basement of the Basque restaurant, working 15 hour days, eating garbanzo beans and hot dogs, and, of all indignities, NO STARBUCKS! Ruthie is working in an area of Beverly Hills where the people flash their "entitlement cards" and expect us regular folk to excuse their bad manners and lack of patience. Hard to tell the rich from the not-so-rich. Later Annie and I went to a new Asian seafood restaurant in Alhambra. The food was only so-so, but our server forgot she was supposed to be working, spent her shift checking out the guys in the other section. Completely ignored us even after we both tried waving our arms in the air! Back at home we experienced the "tummy rumbling" I had talked about in class with regard to food borne illnesses. YIKES! Some Chinese ginger & herb tea helped everything settle down. Akemi, who was my next-door neighbor stopped by to say HB & I also wished her a very HB, since she just celebrated hers this month. Her daughter now lives in the house and we have often gone over to pick persimmons and tangerines. To help out Annie on her new job, I baked Cranberry Biscotti (recipe posted here under Twice Baked) for her to show her boss tomorrow. They are yummy! Not the "crack your teeth & scrape the roof of your mouth" biscotti, which silly people forget to dip into their coffee, but more tender and lightly crisp. She wants me to help with menu development along with baking ciabatta, Tuscan bread, etc. with George. He may not always be available, but he helps out whenever he can. Lauren gave me a movie pack which included almond roca, skittles, microwave popcorn and TAH-DAH! my favorite guilty-pleasure/dumb-ass movie, Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle. Mark called & wished me HB, and he made me laugh with a President Bush joke. The evening ended with talking to Monica for hours, followed by a quesadilla with Conan O'Brian. I couldn't ask for a better birfcake! Maybe not like the one Trogdor the Burninator just had, but equally cool. In preparation for Michael's birfcake on Monday, tonight we're taste-testing new cocktail recipes and some new appetizers. Party on!

Friday, January 27, 2006

Cumpleanos y Dim Sum

Happy Birfcake to you! Today is your birthday. It's my birthday too yeah. All right, that's enough! This vieja is celebrating another year older today with the Culinary Arts 112 class. I have no choice, we have another test today and I'm scheduled to teach. Showtime! At the banquet yesterday our class received a very substantial tip thanks to the generousity of the honored retiree. It is quite a lot of money. Merci, Nick. (He actually is French!) During the breakdown and cleanup, I yelled "Dim sum tomorrow, Chef!" But instead of lunch, he will be giving everyone their fair share of the dinero, which is great for these kids. Ended up having lunch at a new Chinese restaurant, Sea Star, in Alhambra with Annie. Sorry to report that the food was so-so, only the sushi was memorable, and the staff was nowhere to be found. We should have gone to the buffet in Temple City. Next time for sure. This weekend is the Year of the Dog Chinese New Year, so dim sum is the choice for the season, but I'd go for it anytime of the year. Gong Hay Fat Choy, y Viva La Vida Dulce, amigos!

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Martha's Margarita

Martha Stewart? The subject of La Vida Dulce? Let me make this clear, I am not a big fan, but you have to give the lady props for her influence on American culture, how we entertain guests at home. and how to make simple things elegant. And she was featured on two episodes of Baking With Julia. After testing some of the recipes and with the recommendation of Monica, I relented and subscribed to "Everyday Food" magazine. "She's not ever pictured in the magazine," Monica promised, except for K-Mart ads, once in a while. Well, the Margarita Granita in the May 2005 issue was worth the price of the subscription. We like using Mexican limes and Meyer lemons but use whatever your local store provides. We chose to use bottled water because most of the time, although the powers that be swear it is safe, L.A. tap water tastes like a swimming pool. Is that why the DWP drinks Spartkletts? Our choice for tequila was the cheapest store brand, but if you want to spend the money, go ahead and use the high-end stuff. No problema...Viva La Vida Dulce con la Martha!

MARGARITA GRANITA muchas gracias a la Martha Stewart
adapted from Everyday Food

3 1/4 cups bottled water
1 cup + 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon lime zest, very finely grated
5 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1/2 teaspoon Meyer lemon zest, very finely grated
1 tablespoon fresh Meyer lemon juice
2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
1/4 cup tequila
Kosher salt
lime wedges

Place the water and sugar in a saucepan over medium heat, stir till sugar dissolves, about one minute. Remove from heat. Add zest, juices, tequila, a pinch of salt and stir. Pour into a 9x13 inch heat-proof glass dish and let cool. Cover with plastic wrap tightly and freeze for two hours. Check for slushy texture and run a fork over the surface. Wrap and freeze again for another two hours. Keep in freezer until ready to serve. Dip glasses in lime juice, then in salt, and serve granita with lime wedges as garnish. Makes four to six servings.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Garden Room Dining

We had two, count them, TWO events in the Garden Room this week. The International Buffet theme on Wednesday was "Mexican" complete with flan, tamales (sweet and savory), the usual rice & beans, carne asada, carnitas, mole, green salad with black beans and corn, and of all things SUSHI!! We served about 23 covers, not too bad. If only our one problem was a shortage of salsas. The tamales were raw, the beans were burnt, and the pork was dry. When the guests constantly send back raw tamales, meat tough as shoe leather, either undercooked or overcooked food, that is pretty sad. I wish the only things I reported here were positive, tasty, and delicious, but things at school do not always go smoothly. We do our best to accommodate the diners, the 2nd, 3rd, & 4th semester classes try to make every dish a masterpiece, but mistakes are made. On Thursday things got worse. The retirement banquet for 80+ guests was a big embarrassment. The chicken they served was raw, a potentially dangerous food hazard. It was such a waste, I saw so many plates of food that had to be dumped. Our class offers good service, but if the food made by the other classes is inedible, what are we supposed to do but smile and offer a beverage and dessert. Oh well.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006


My team partner from 1st semester Professional Baking is moving to San Diego tomorrow. Elaine is truly one of the most wonderful women who walk God's green earth. She was such a joy to work with in the bakery, top-notch baking skills, full of creative ideas, and best of all she was funny, always kept me laughing. I missed not being able to continue last Fall, although I did pay a visit in October. It was so good to see her again, as she was busy creating another dessert masterpiece. We have kept in touch through e-mail and phone calls. I hope to pay a visit soon so I can see her new Kitchen-Aid range and oven with steam-injection. Wow! Maybe a Dodgers vs. Padres game would be a good excuse! She inspired me to continue studying baking, testing out formulas, comparing different methods, and researching new and innovative products and trends in patisserie and artisan breads.
Happy Baking & Cooking, Elaine!

Saturday, January 14, 2006

CBS in Chinatown

Friday afternoon we stopped by CBS in Chinatown. No, not the TV station, the Chinese restaurant. This time instead of having dim sum in the dining room, we opted for the take-out line. Fortunately for us the cook brought out fresh pans of steaming hot flat noodles with vegetables and shrimp fried rice with vegetables. We also ordered the salty shrimp, fried pork chop, and thin pan-fried noodles. What a feast, five large orders, and under $16! You can't drive to the store, buy the ingredients, make the stocks and sauces, and cook everything at home for that price. Talk about low food cost percentage! How do they do it? We will probably end up eating the leftovers for days!

Monday, January 09, 2006

Twice Baked

Lauren liked the biscotti so much, I made a second batch. I gave some to Annie last week, but saved a few for us. Here it is, adapted from FoodTV:
2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup (one stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon lemon zest (thanks to Mark)
1/4 teaspoon salt (not kosher)
2 large eggs
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds (or diced pecans)
1/2 cup dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a large baking pan or cookie sheet with parchment paper. Combine baking powder and flour in a bowl. In a mixer or by hand blend sugar, butter, lemon zest and salt. Add eggs one at a time. Beat in flour mixture to combine, do not overbeat. Stir in pumpkins seeds and cranberries.

Form dough into log approximately 13x3 in. with moistened hands onto lined cookie sheet. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes till light golden. Cool on sheet for 30 minutes. Remove from sheet and place on cutting board. With a serrated knife cut the log diagonally into 1/2 inch slices. Some will be larger than others. Place biscotti on cookie sheet cut side down and bake for about 15 minutes, turning over halfway through, until golden. Allow to cool on rack completely. Store in an air-tight container up to three days.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

It's The Attack of the Lemons!

Many thanks to Mark for the bushel of Meyer lemons. More like a TON. I've made Lemon Bars, Candied Lemon Peels, Lemon Pie, Lemon Muffins, Lemon Glazed Pound Cake, and Limoncello. These lemons are wonderful as a mixer for Margaritas. Then we have the Lemon Chicken, Lemon Shrimp, as well as all the other many culinary uses. The rest are getting squeezed and the juice frozen in ice cube trays for future use.

From the Eagle Brand website here's a lemony dessert, something to serve when you have a TON of lemons and are running out of new ways to use them.

LEMON DESSERT SQUARES - adapted from Eagle Brand
1 can 14oz. Eagle Brand Sweetened Condensed Milk
3/4 cup fresh lemon juice

1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
3/4 cup all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup dry oatmeal, quick cooking
1/4 teaspoon lemon zest, finely grated
Powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Whisk lemon juice and Eagle Brand in a bowl and set aside. Cream butter and sugar together in a large bowl. Add flour, baking powder, salt, oatmeal, lemon zest and combine with two knives or a pastry blender, mixing well. Reserve 1/4 cup of mixture. Spray an 8x8 baking pan and line with parchment paper. Press crust mixture into pan, then pour in the reserved lemon filling. Sprinkle the reserved crust mixture evenly over the filling. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until the edges are slightly browned. Cool in pan for 30 minutes, then cover and refrigerate for two hours before cutting. When ready to serve, gently lift out of pan, cut into 8 squares and lightly dust with powdered sugar. Makes 8 servings.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Napkin Folding 101

Today we practiced our napkin folding, beginning with the Astoria, Chloe, Bowtie & Fan folds. As simple as it sounds, napkin folding really is a beautiful part of Restaurant Service. There are hundreds of different folds, each appropriate to the type of place setting, whether for banquets, buffets, etc. We are expected to master only about 40 folds, and time ourselves to see how many and how quickly we can get done. It is fun to watch these guys, and some of them are quite good, very proud of themselves.

We learned today that this class will not be cancelled. Good thing, since I am doing this in order to take the two certifications, Serv-Safe Alcohol and Service. Chef is the only instructor in school who administers certification exams. I still have two more after this. So I bus tables, clean the front line area, help out, and try to do whatever I am asked. It is called paying dues, which I am grateful to pay for the tremendous benefits I receive.

If I get up early enough tomorrow, I may back up a batch of Snickerdoodles. We are out of the proper ingredients for the Three Kings Cake, bummer.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Rose Bowl Upset and Bread Bowl Wins!

Another day in school. Come to find out the class may be cancelled due to lack of registered students. People who audit the class aren't included in the class registration. We will have to wait to see what the administration decides. Regardless, George is coming in tomorrow and it will be so good to see my dear friend. He is the bread guy, baking his sourdough loaves, testing out new formulas, studying and comparing recipes.

Tonight, at the request of Annie, I baked a half sheet of focaccia, but I am not pleased with the carmelized onions, too harsh flavor. I quickly remove the larger pieces and that does the trick. Nicely browned crust all around, lots of olive oil, and soft dough in the center. She's bringing a pasta to class tomorrow and she asked for bread sticks ala Olive Garden. I just didn't want to spend the time rolling dough. (It was right in the middle of the Rose Bowl game, c'mon!) Also baked another batch of cinnamon bunz, this time letting the dough autolyze, just experimenting. More flavor this time, and more of a rise on the second proof in the pan. These are such lovely little bunz!

By the way, USC lost but not by much. I'm
glad I got the chance to catch the final quarter, exciting right down to the final seconds. Too bad for USC, with Texas ending their winning streak, but they still played a good game. I hear the Baker Boyz may start working at USC sometime soon. Good luck, guys and muy buena suerte!

Tomorrow we are baking a Three Kings Cake for class on Friday! Thanks to Chef2Chef for the recipes. Don't forget to hide the baby in the cake!

Monday, January 02, 2006

Monday Before School

Tomorrow morning it starts all over again. Up at 4 am, quick shower, pack up all my gear, and then head out to catch the number 68 bus through downtown L.A. The Winter session at Trade Tech starts tomorrow and I will be working as a Teacher Assistant for Chef Gio and his first semester Culinary Arts class. It is only five weeks, Monday through Friday from 6 am till around Noon. I haven't been back to school since visiting last October, about a month after my dad died. It will be good to get out and get back in the groove of things.

Today the cinnamon bunz were made, Michael ate a few, testing for quality, of course. Lauren's family will get the next batch. I will take some tomorrow for the morning. Don't want the temptation hanging around the house. Oatmeal for me, coffee and some fruit. Also made the pizza, three cheeses and a bit of diced ham. That slow rise in the frige makes all the difference in creating the depth of flavor in the dough. Also made a white bean soup, very hearty and soothing.

Not that I have ever been all that interested, but the Rose Parade today got rain for the first time in about 50 years. Let's see, one husband with the USC band one year, so he says. And a boyfriend of mine was a real fan, dragged me to see the floats the day after the parade one year. But the big surprise is that the Rose Bowl won't be played until Wednesday. I predict USC will win, 53 to 27.

When I get a camera and when I can figure it out, I will post pictures of the finished products. Recipes will be posted later this week. Have a great day and stay dry.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Feliz Ano Nuevo

Happy New Year! This begins the year of baking 2006, doing something new everyday, either research, production, or prep. There's a pizza dough in the frige, to be baked tomorrow. There's also a pre-ferment in the frige for cinnamon bunz to be baked by request for Lauren's (Michael's friend) family. Today, no baking, just prep. Thanks to George for the bunz formula. It is da bomb. After browsing through the Los Angeles Public Library catalog, I put several candymaking books on hold. The next major project will be designing sweets for Valentine's Day. More to come later this week. Have a wonderful day off tomorrow, parades, football, good chow to eat. We are blessed.